In 1986, 30-year old Barbara Pelkey was killed in the factory where she worked. Nearly three years later, Kenneth Ireland was charged with the crime. Two informants told police that Ireland and two other men confessed to them. Over a year later, another witness came forward saying Ireland confessed to her. She also said that she was drunk at the time, and may have imagined the statements. Based on these witnesses, Ireland was tried and convicted of the rape and murder.
The hair and the fingerprints at the crime scene did not match Ireland. The semen was determined to have come from a “non-secretor,” meaning the individual does not exhibit their blood type in their bodily fluids. About 20% of all males fit this description, including Ireland. Based on this evidence Ireland was convicted and sentenced to 50 years in prison.
Ireland lost his first appeal in 1991. In 2007, the Connecticut Innocence Project helped him get additional DNA testing. This testing excluded Ireland as the culprit. In 2009 all charges were dropped. Ireland spent over 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit plus an additional two years in jail awaiting trial.
The same DNA results used to exonerate Ireland also led police to Barbara Pelkey’s real killer. On January 18, 2012 Kevin Benefield was found guilty of the murder of Barbara Pelkey. Benefield, who was living in the Bronx when he was arrested, worked in the same building complex as Pelkey at the time of her murder.